From the Life of Ezra Taft Benson
In 1936, as people all over the world struggled with the economic challenges of the Great Depression, the First Presidency introduced a new welfare program. This program, called the Church Security Plan, was established not to provide handouts for people in need but “to help the people to help themselves.”1 As the First Presidency and other Church leaders established this program, they taught foundational principles of hard work, self-reliance, and service. They encouraged Church members to pay tithing and fast offerings, produce and store food, avoid unnecessary debt, and save money for future needs.
At that time, President Ezra Taft Benson was serving as a counselor in a stake presidency in Boise, Idaho. He was also an economist, marketing specialist, and farm management specialist for the state of Idaho. He accepted an assignment from his stake president to attend a meeting in which the Church Security Plan would be introduced. He later recalled: “My soul responded wholeheartedly to everything that I heard that day. I went back to the Boise Stake and expressed to my brethren that this program which had been announced is economically, socially, and spiritually sound, and expressed the confidence that the people of the Church would respond to it wholeheartedly as something that is not only sound but also needed.”2
Two months after President Benson introduced the program to his stake, “numerous welfare projects were underway: one ward had planted a multi-acre garden, another had sown fifteen acres of sugar beets, and the Relief Society in another was canning food and making quilts and clothing. [One ward] even built a small cannery.”3
President Benson saw the expansive influence of the welfare program 10 years later. As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he was assigned to preside over the Church in Europe just after World War II. In those war-torn lands, he led the Church’s effort to provide goods that would help people regain their self-sufficiency. He recounted his experience when the Church’s first shipment of welfare supplies arrived in Berlin, Germany:
“I took with me the acting president of the mission, President Richard Ranglack. We walked to the old battered warehouse which, under armed guard, housed the precious welfare goods. At the far end of the warehouse we saw the boxes piled almost to the ceiling.
“‘Are those boxes of food?’ Richard said. ‘Do you mean to tell me those are boxes full of food?’
“‘Yes, my brother,’ I replied, ‘food and clothing and bedding—and, I hope, a few medical supplies.’
“Richard and I took down one of the boxes. We opened it. It was filled with the commonest of common foods—dried beans. As that good man saw it, he put his hands into it and ran it through his fingers, then broke down and cried like a child with gratitude.
“We opened another box, filled with cracked wheat, nothing added or taken away, just as the Lord made it and intended it to be. He touched a pinch of it to his mouth. After a moment he looked at me through his tearful eyes—and mine were wet, too—and he said, while slowly shaking his head, ‘Brother Benson, it is hard to believe that people who have never seen us could do so much for us.’
“That’s the Lord’s system! Voluntary donations motivated by brotherly love and willing sacrifice, and assisting others to help themselves. Such ensures dignity and self-respect.”4
Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson
1. The Lord is anxious and willing to bless His people temporally and spiritually.
I realize, my brethren and sisters, that in discussing temporal matters, the Lord has said:
“… all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal. …” [D&C 29:34.]
The objective, of course, is spiritual. We live, however, in a material, physical, temporal world. …
… Man is a dual being, temporal and spiritual, and in the early revelations to this people, the Lord took occasion, many times, to give direction and commandment regarding temporal matters. He directed the Saints and the leaders of the Church in the purchase of land and other property; in the construction of temples; even in the establishment of a printing press, and a store, and in the building of a boardinghouse for the “weary traveler” [see D&C 124:22–23]. In the great revelation known as the Word of Wisdom, he not only indicated what is good and what is not good for man, but he outlined a plan for the feeding of livestock, which, through more than a hundred years, has gradually been sustained through the scientific investigation of man [see D&C 89]. Whatever affects human welfare has always been and ever will be the concern of the Church. Our people have always been counseled in temporal affairs. …
It is important that we keep our thinking straight, my brothers and sisters. Let us ever keep in mind that all material things are but a means to an end, that the end is spiritual, although the Lord is anxious and willing to bless his people temporally. He has so indicated in many of the revelations. He has pointed out, time and time again, that we should pray over our crops, over our livestock, over our households, our homes, and invoke the Lord’s blessings upon our material affairs. And he has promised that he will be there and ready and willing to bless us. …
… The Lord will not do for us what we can and should do for ourselves. But it is his purpose to take care of his Saints. Everything that concerns the economic, social, and spiritual welfare of the human family is and ever will be the concern of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.5
As we administer any aspect of the welfare program, the primary purpose for which it was established must be kept before us. That stated purpose is “to set up, insofar as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift, and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.”6
The strength of the Church welfare program lies in every family following the inspired direction of the Church leaders to be self-sustaining through adequate preparation. God intends for his Saints to so prepare themselves “that the church [as the Lord has said] may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world.” (D&C 78:14.)7
The scriptural parable of the five wise and the five foolish virgins [see Matthew 25:1–13] is a reminder that one can wait too long before he attempts to get his spiritual and temporal house in order. Are we prepared?8
2. Through energetic, purposeful, unselfish work, we obtain life’s necessities and grow in godly attributes.
One of the first principles revealed to father Adam when he was driven out of the Garden of Eden was this: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (Gen. 3:19). All we obtain in life of a material nature comes as a product of labor and the providence of God. Work alone produces life’s necessities.9
Man is commanded by God to live by the sweat of his own brow, not someone else’s.10
Ours is a gospel of work—purposeful, unselfish and rendered in the spirit of the true love of Christ. Only thus may we grow in godly attributes. Only thus may we become worthy instruments in the hands of the Lord for blessing others through that power which can lead to changing the lives of men and women for the better.
We should be humbly grateful for this challenge, this heritage, this opportunity for service and its abundant rewards. How fortunate are those who may follow the Lord’s plan to develop this power and use it for the blessing of others. That is what the Christ did. That is what we are privileged to do.11
Welfare recipients should work to the extent of their ability to earn commodity or fast offering assistance. When meaningful jobs are not provided, when people are not encouraged to work, a demoralizing Church dole would develop, and the purpose for which the welfare program was established would be undermined. It is a law of heaven, and one we haven’t learned fully here on earth, that you cannot help people permanently by doing for them what they can do, and should do, for themselves.12
We should ask the Lord’s blessings on all our doings and should never do anything upon which we cannot ask His blessings. We should not expect the Lord to do for us what we can do for ourselves. I believe in faith and works, and that the Lord will bless more fully the man who works for what he prays for than He will the man who only prays.13
Energetic, purposeful work leads to vigorous health, praiseworthy achievement, a clear conscience, and refreshing sleep. Work has always been a boon to man. May you have a wholesome respect for labor whether with head, heart, or hand. May you ever enjoy the satisfaction of honest toil. … You will never wish or dream yourself into heaven. You must pay the price in toil, in sacrifice, and righteous living.14
3. When we produce and store food, we reap immediate benefits and prepare for future needs.
Have you ever paused to realize what would happen to your community or nation if transportation were paralyzed or if we had a war or depression? How would you and your neighbors obtain food? How long would the corner grocery store—or supermarket—sustain the needs of the community?
Shortly after World War II, I was called by the First Presidency to go to Europe to reestablish our missions and set up a program for the distribution of food and clothing to the Saints. Vivid in my memory are the people who got on trains each morning with all kinds of bric-a-brac in their arms to go out to the countryside to trade their possessions for food. At evening time, the train station was filled with people with arms full of vegetables and fruits, and a menagerie of squealing pigs and chickens. You never heard such a commotion. These people were, of course, willing to barter practically anything for that commodity which sustains life—food.
An almost forgotten means of economic self-reliance is the home production of food. We are too accustomed to going to stores and purchasing what we need. By producing some of our food we reduce, to a great extent, the impact of inflation on our money. More importantly, we learn how to produce our own food and involve all family members in a beneficial project. …
… May I suggest you do what others have done. Get together with others and seek permission to use a vacant lot for a garden, or rent a plot of ground and grow your gardens. Some elders quorums have done this as a quorum, and all who have participated have reaped the benefits of a vegetable and fruit harvest and the blessings of cooperation and family involvement. Many families have dug up lawn space for gardens.
We encourage you to be more self-reliant so that, as the Lord has declared, “notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, … the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world” (D&C 78:14). The Lord wants us to be independent and self-reliant because these will be days of tribulation. He has warned and forewarned us of the eventuality. …
Food production is just one part of the repeated emphasis that you store a provision of food … wherever it is legally permissible to do so. The Church has not told you what foods should be stored. This decision is left up to individual members. …
… The revelation to produce and store food may be as essential to our temporal welfare today as boarding the ark was to the people in the days of Noah. …
… Plan to build up your food supply just as you would a savings account. Save a little for storage each pay-check. Can or bottle fruit and vegetables from your gardens and orchards. Learn how to preserve food through drying and possibly freezing. Make your storage a part of your budget. Store seeds and have sufficient tools on hand to do the job. If you are saving and planning for a second car or a TV set or some item which merely adds to your comfort or pleasure, you may need to change your priorities. We urge you to do this prayerfully and do it now. …
Too often we bask in our comfortable complacency and rationalize that the ravages of war, economic disaster, famine, and earthquake cannot happen here. Those who believe this are either not acquainted with the revelations of the Lord, or they do not believe them. Those who smugly think these calamities will not happen, that they somehow will be set aside because of the righteousness of the Saints, are deceived and will rue the day they harbored such a delusion.
The Lord has warned and forewarned us against a day of great tribulation and given us counsel, through His servants, on how we can be prepared for these difficult times. Have we heeded His counsel? …
Be faithful, my brothers and sisters, to this counsel and you will be blessed—yes, the most blessed people in all the earth. You are good people. I know that. But all of us need to be better than we are. Let us be in a position so we are able to not only feed ourselves through the home production and storage, but others as well.
May God bless us to be prepared for the days which lie ahead, which may be the most severe yet.15
4. Peace and contentment come into our hearts when we save a portion of our earnings and avoid unnecessary debt.
I would respectfully urge you to live by the fundamental principles of work, thrift, and self-reliance and to teach your children by your example. … Live within your own earnings. Put a portion of those earnings regularly into savings. Avoid unnecessary debt. Be wise by not trying to expand too rapidly. Learn to manage well what you have before you think of expanding further.16
Unfortunately, there has been fostered in the minds of some an expectation that when we experience hard times, when we have been unwise and extravagant with our resources and have lived beyond our means, we should look to either the Church or government to bail us out. Forgotten by some of our members is an underlying principle of the Church welfare plan that “no true Latter-day Saint will, while physically able, voluntarily shift from himself the burden of his own support.” …
More than ever before, we need to learn and apply the principles of economic self-reliance. We do not know when the crisis involving sickness or unemployment may affect our own circumstances. We do know that the Lord has decreed global calamities for the future and has warned and forewarned us to be prepared. For this reason the Brethren have repeatedly stressed a “back to basics” program for temporal and spiritual welfare.17
The Lord desires his Saints to be free and independent in the critical days ahead. But no man is truly free who is in financial bondage.18
In the book of Kings we read about a woman who came weeping to Elisha, the prophet. Her husband had died, and she owed a debt that she could not pay. The creditor was on his way to take her two sons and sell them as slaves.
By a miracle Elisha enabled her to acquire a goodly supply of oil. Then he said to her: “Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.” (See 2 Kgs. 4:1–7.)
“Pay thy debt, and live.” How fruitful these words have ever been! What wise counsel they are for us today! …
Many people do not believe that serious recession will ever come again. Feeling secure in their expectations of continuing employment and a steady flow of wages and salaries, they obligate their future income without thought of what they would do if they should lose their jobs or if their incomes were stopped for some other reason. But the best authorities have repeatedly said that we are not yet smart enough to control our economy without downward adjustments. Sooner or later these adjustments will come.
Another reason for increase in debt is even deeper and causes greater concern. This is the rise of materialism, as contrasted with commitment to spiritual values. Many a family, in order to make a “proper showing,” will commit itself for a larger and more expensive house than is needed, in an expensive neighborhood. … With the rising standard of living, that temptation increases with each new gadget that comes on the market. The subtle, carefully planned techniques of modern advertising are aimed at the weakest points of consumer resistance. As a result, there is a growing feeling, unfortunately, that material things should be had now, without waiting, without saving, without self-denial.
Worse still, a large proportion of families with personal debt have no liquid assets [savings] whatsoever to fall back upon. What troubles they invite if their income should be suddenly cut off or seriously reduced! We all know of families who have obligated themselves for more than they could pay. There is a world of heartache behind such cases.19
Now I do not mean to say that all debt is bad. Of course not. Sound business debt is one of the elements of growth. Sound mortgage credit is a real help to a family that must borrow for a home.20
In the long run, it is easier to live within our income and resist borrowing from future reserves except in cases of necessity—never for luxuries. It is not fair to ourselves or our communities to be so improvident in our spending that the day our income stops we must turn to relief agencies or the Church for financial aid.
Do not, I solemnly urge you, tie yourselves to payment of carrying charges that are often exorbitant. Save now and buy later, and you will be much further ahead. You will spare yourselves high interest and other payments, and the money you save may provide opportunity for you to buy later at substantial cash discounts.
… Resist the temptation to plunge into property far more pretentious or spacious than you really need.
How much better off you will be, especially young families just starting out, if first you buy a small house which you can expect to pay for in a relatively short time. …
Do not leave yourself or your family unprotected against financial storms. Forgo luxuries, for the time being at least, to build up savings. How wise it is to provide for the future education of your children and for your old age. …
Brothers and sisters, peace and contentment come into our hearts when we live within our means. God grant us the wisdom and the faith to heed the inspired counsel of the priesthood to get out of debt, to live within our means, and to pay as we go—in short, to “pay thy debt, and live.”21
Ezra Taft Benson
Chapter 21: Principles of Temporal and Spiritual Welfare
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 262–74